In mid-January, on the generous recommendation of fellow design chronicler Alissa Walker, Bryony and I were invited by Studio 360 — the beloved Public Radio International show hosted by Kurt Andersen — to tackle a rather interesting problem: Redesigning Valentine’s Day, everything from the hearts, to the roses, to the chocolates, to the expensive dinners, to Cupid. Everything we know about Valentine’s was due for a new approach. Now you might think, who would want to come up with this challenge in the first place? Well, Studio 360 has posed similar challenges in the past: Pentagram was asked to redesign Christmas in 2006 (in which I participated while employed there) and Worldstudio to redesign the gay flag in 2009. Of course, we said yes. Yes, to a project that we had to finish in less than two weeks, with no pay, and without any precedents to refer to. Regardless, we decided to approach it just as we would any identity or branding project. The results of this endeavor, along with the process that got us there, are shown below, and at Studio 360 you can listen to the presentation with our “client,” Mr. Andersen.
The hardest part was grasping the extent to which Valentine’s Day had become more obnoxious than enjoyable and finding glimmers of hope in the traditions of this holiday. Our first step was sitting down with our friends Jennifer Elsner and David Shields of Viewers Like You — both of whom shared with us being designers, ex-Brooklynites, married to each other and not celebrating Valentine’s — to have a discussion on the merits and demerits of this love-filled day. You can hear very small segments of this conversation here. Based on this hearty conversation and further reflection we established the following aspects of Valentine’s:
Effusive with an intense display of affection in a single day.
Convenient with a predetermined palette of solutions.
Memorable with the potential for unique gestures.
Generic with mass-produced, off-the-shelf solutions.
Divisive with the exclusion of singles.
Stressful with the pressure of getting the right token of affection.
Obnoxious with visual clichés of hearts and explosions of red.
We can’t fix everything, so we decided to focus on five aspects.
Simplify visual clutter.
Update color palette.
Sorry single people, this day is not for you. Father’s Day isn’t for mothers and Mother’s Day isn’t for fathers… you have Spring Break, what else do you want?
Applies only to romantic love between two people, so if you want to celebrate friendship you will need to find another day.
Responsibility for displays of affection falls on both parties. Men screw up enough throughout the year to put the weight of a holiday on their shoulders.
On January 1st discuss with your partner whether you will celebrate Valentine’s Day. Sign a piece of paper if needed.
Among all the visual manifestations of Valentine’s, one stands apart as a recurring icon. The heart.
But the heart is not unique to Valentine’s Day.
By drawing from the heart’s symmetric anatomy and curved structure we arrive at a new, exclusive icon: The Valentine.
The Valentine stands for unity, simplicity, and partnership. It also makes the shape of a “V.”
The Valentine is as simple as other global icons.
It can be easily reinterpreted and adopted by anyone. (Your interpretation is welcome at this Flickr Group)
The Valentine can serve to indicate relationship status or romantic intentions depending on its orientation.
It lets your friends know whether you are “open” or “closed” for romantic business.
The primary color associated with Valentine’s Day is red, which is also the color for other significant icons.
The supporting color is pink, in many hues…yuck.
Since red can not be owned by Valentine’s and there is equity in pink, a viable solution is magenta, a vibrant, contemporary and strong color — it is also a default printing ink, yielding efficient and sustainable print production.
Magenta is coupled with a dark gray for a touch of seriousness and sophistication — overlaying these two colors creates a third one, burgundy.
The Valentine rendered in various combinations of the new color palette.
Tradition: The Valentine card
Offering a Valentine card as a display of affection has lost all sense of significance. Originally created by hand with meaningful materials and gestures, today’s mass-produced cards have lost all sense of romanticism. But how do you change people’s behavior to go back to Valentine’s roots?
Introducing The Valentine Card Tax regulated by federal, state, and local law. Applied to any Valentine card design produced in quantities of 1,000 or more. Yes… Hallmark and American Greetings, you are out of luck.
Leading to a return to one-of-a-kind Valentines.
If hand-made Valentine cards are not for you, get a silver marker and a stack of sticky notes branded with The Valentine, then use them to leave unexpected notes on Valentine’s Day and even throughout the year for your loved one to find.
Tradition: The roses
Sure, roses are pretty but a large percentage of the nearly 200 million sold in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day come all the way from Colombia — hello carbon footprint — harvested by workers in reportedly dire conditions and pay. Roses must go.
Instead, and to retain the connection to an object that grows from our earth, we suggest selecting from a range of more functional, lasting organic products that, ahem, are also powerful aphrodisiacs. Pictured: saffron, chili peppers, eggplant, ginger, durian, okra, and papaya.
Tradition: The chocolate
There is absolutely nothing wrong with chocolate on Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year. Banning it would be a crime. Chocolate… stays! (Abstain from enormous boxes though, it’s hard enough that most of us have already given up on New Year’s resolutions by this time.)
When it comes to other Holidays’ characters, Cupid just does not measure up. We would like to offer some alternatives. To do so, we asked three of our favorite illustrators to dream up possible replacements.
Chief Valentine Officer by Amanda Woodward
A more benevolent form of C-level executive, the CVO’s sole end-of-year bonus is the joy of procuring romantic love between two people, no matter how hard they are to bring together.
Heart Worm by Von Glitschka
On Valentine’s Day let your heart be infested with the Heart Worm. Its burrowing presence will give you passionate heart burn for the apple of your eye. Eat your heart out Cupid! Plus, it can flex into a number of helpful shapes.
The Love Puppy by Jessica Hische
Nothing sparks conversations between strangers — of both genders and all orientations — than a dog. This winged puppy rejects Cupid’s bow and arrow in favor of the Care Bears Stare, “in which the collected Bears stand together and radiate light from their respective tummy symbols. These combine to form a ray of love and good cheer which could bring care and joy into the target’s heart.”
It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. And, regardless of what you do or don’t do on Valentine’s, a simple “I love you” might be enough.
If you would like to use The Valentine icon, and we encourage you to, you may download it, print it, twist it, scribble it, whatever it.
Plans are in development for coming back to Europe in Spring of 2018 with the current top contender host city of Barcelona.